In the Ravine
- Anton Chekhov
At the present time the steps and the front
door of the shop have been repainted and are as bright as though
they were new, there are gay geraniums in the windows as of old,
and what happened in Tsybukin's house and yard three years ago
is almost forgotten.
Grigory Petrovitch is looked upon as the master as he was in old
days, but in reality everything has passed into Aksinya's hands;
she buys and sells, and nothing can be done without her consent.
The brickyard is working well; and as bricks are wanted for the
railway the price has gone up to twenty-four roubles a thousand;
peasant women and girls cart the bricks to the station and load
them up in the trucks and earn a quarter-rouble a day for the
Aksinya has gone into partnership with the Hrymin Juniors, and
their factory is now called Hrymin Juniors and Co. They have
opened a tavern near the station, and now the expensive
concertina is played not at the factory but at the tavern, and
the head of the post office often goes there, and he, too, is
engaged in some sort of traffic, and the stationmaster, too.
Hrymin Juniors have presented the deaf man Stepan with a gold
watch, and he is constantly taking it out of his pocket and
putting it to his ear.
People say of Aksinya that she has become a person of power; and
it is true that when she drives in the morning to her brickyard,
handsome and happy, with the nave smile on her face, and
afterwards when she is giving orders there, one is aware of
great power in her. Everyone is afraid of her in the house and
in the village and in the brickyard. When she goes to the post
the head of the postal department jumps up and says to her:
"I humbly beg you to be seated, Aksinya Abramovna!"
A certain landowner, middle-aged but foppish, in a tunic of fine
cloth and patent leather high boots, sold her a horse, and was
so carried away by talking to her that he knocked down the price
to meet her wishes. He held her hand a long time and, looking
into her merry, sly, nave eyes, said:
"For a woman like you, Aksinya Abramovna, I should be ready to
do anything you please. Only say when we can meet where no one
will interfere with us?"
"Why, when you please."
And since then the elderly fop drives up to the shop almost
every day to drink beer. And the beer is horrid, bitter as
wormwood. The landowner shakes his head, but he drinks it.
Old Tsybukin does not have anything to do with the business now
at all. He does not keep any money because he cannot distinguish
between the good and the false, but he is silent, he says
nothing of this weakness. He has become forgetful, and if they
don't give him food he does not ask for it. They have grown used
to having dinner without him, and Varvara often says:
"He went to bed again yesterday without any supper."
And she says it unconcernedly because she is used to it. For
some reason, summer and winter alike, he wears a fur coat, and
only in very hot weather he does not go out but sits at home. As
a rule putting on his fur coat, wrapping it round him and
turning up his collar, he walks about the village, along the
road to the station, or sits from morning till night on the seat
near the church gates. He sits there without stirring.
Passers-by bow to him, but he does not respond, for as of old he
dislikes the peasants. If he is asked a question he answers
quite rationally and politely, but briefly.
There is a rumour going about in the village that his
daughter-in-law turns him out of the house and gives him nothing
to eat, and that he is fed by charity; some are glad, others are
sorry for him.
Varvara has grown even fatter and whiter, and as before she is
active in good works, and Aksinya does not interfere with her.
There is so much jam now that they have not time to eat it
before the fresh fruit comes in; it goes sugary, and Varvara
almost sheds tears, not knowing what to do with it.
They have begun to forget about Anisim. A letter has come from
him written in verse on a big sheet of paper as though it were a
petition, all in the same splendid handwriting. Evidently his
friend Samorodov was sharing his punishment. Under the verses in
an ugly, scarcely legible handwriting there was a single line:
"I am ill here all the time; I am wretched, for Christ's sake
Towards evening -- it was a fine autumn day -- old Tsybukin was
sitting near the church gates, with the collar of his fur coat
turned up and nothing of him could be seen but his nose and the
peak of his cap. At the other end of the long seat was sitting
Elizarov the contractor, and beside him Yakov the school
watchman, a toothless old man of seventy. Crutch and the
watchman were talking.
"Children ought to give food and drink to the old. . . . Honour
thy father and mother . . ." Yakov was saying with irritation,
"while she, this daughter-in-law, has turned her father-in-law
out of his own house; the old man has neither food nor drink,
where is he to go? He has not had a morsel for these three
"Three days!" said Crutch, amazed.
"Here he sits and does not say a word. He has grown feeble. And
why be silent? He ought to prosecute her, they wouldn't flatter
her in the police court."
"Wouldn't flatter whom?" asked Crutch, not hearing.
"The woman's all right, she does her best. In their line of
business they can't get on without that . . . without sin, I
mean. . . ."
"From his own house," Yakov went on with irritation. "Save up
and buy your own house, then turn people out of it! She is a
nice one, to be sure! A pla-ague!"
Tsybukin listened and did not stir.
"Whether it is your own house or others' it makes no difference
so long as it is warm and the women don't scold . . ." said
Crutch, and he laughed. "When I was young I was very fond of my
Nastasya. She was a quiet woman. And she used to be always at
it: 'Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a
house, Makaritch!' She was dying and yet she kept on saying,
'Buy yourself a racing droshky, Makaritch, that you may not have
to walk.' And I bought her nothing but gingerbread."
"Her husband's deaf and stupid," Yakov went on, not hearing
Crutch; "a regular fool, just like a goose. He can't understand
anything. Hit a goose on the head with a stick and even then it
does not understand."
Crutch got up to go home to the factory. Yakov also got up, and
both of them went off together, still talking. When they had
gone fifty paces old Tsybukin got up, too, and walked after
them, stepping uncertainly as though on slippery ice.
The village was already plunged in the dusk of evening and the
sun only gleamed on the upper part of the road which ran
wriggling like a snake up the slope. Old women were coming back
from the woods and children with them; they were bringing
baskets of mushrooms. Peasant women and girls came in a crowd
from the station where they had been loading the trucks with
bricks, and their noses and their cheeks under their eyes were
covered with red brick-dust. They were singing. Ahead of them
all was Lipa singing in a high voice, with her eyes turned
upwards to the sky, breaking into trills as though triumphant
and ecstatic that at last the day was over and she could rest.
In the crowd was her mother Praskovya, who was walking with a
bundle in her arms and breathless as usual.
"Good-evening, Makaritch!" cried Lipa, seeing Crutch.
"Good-evening, Lipinka," cried Crutch delighted. "Dear girls and
women, love the rich carpenter! Ho-ho! My little children, my
little children. (Crutch gave a gulp.) My dear little axes!"
Crutch and Yakov went on further and could still be heard
talking. Then after them the crowd was met by old Tsybukin and
there was a sudden hush. Lipa and Praskovya had dropped a little
behind, and when the old man was on a level with them Lipa bowed
down low and said:
"Good-evening, Grigory Petrovitch."
Her mother, too, bowed down. The old man stopped and, saying
nothing, looked at the two in silence; his lips were quivering
and his eyes full of tears. Lipa took out of her mother's bundle
a piece of savoury turnover and gave it him. He took it and
The sun had by now set: its glow died away on the road above. It
grew dark and cool. Lipa and Praskovya walked on and for some
time they kept crossing themselves.
Low Sunday: the Sunday after Easter, a traditional time for
Flagellant sect: a religious sect that arose in the 17th
century; they repudiated priests and much of the Orthodox
Church, and tended to favor clean, white clothes
first guild: a member of the most prosperous of the three
associations of Russian businessmen and merchants
tried it with his teeth: a counterfeit ruble has no silver and
would be softer than a real ruble
mouth: Russian superstition, to keep the Devil from entering the
kingdom of heaven: cf. Matthew 19:14
Honour thy father and mother: Exodus 20:12